Backed by major philanthropists and investors such as Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, the ed-tech industry has aggressively pushed the idea of “personalized learning.” But on the ground, the concept remains nebulous, and research evidence remains thin.
~Benjamin Herold. Education Week, September 21, 2017
Will students graduate high school with what they need to go on to college or to achieve a fulfilling career? That’s what every parent wonders and worries about.
Now parents have the added concern of questioning if personalized learning used in their student’s high school is providing adequate preparation.
Education Week’s recent report, “Personalized Learning a Big Challenge in High School Redesign, RAND Finds” should add fuel to the fire of their concern.
The RAND study found that personalized learning implementation in high schools left much to be desired.
The actual RAND report is called “Designing Innovative High Schools: Implementation of the Opportunity by Design Initiative After Two Years,” and it tells about the problems in personalized learning at the high school level. The Education Week summary:
- Lack of time for teachers to create or find lessons and learning materials that are differentiated for each student.
- External pressure to move students towards graduation, whether they had mastered material or not.
- Inconsistent expectations for what “mastery” means.
- Inconsistent access to high-quality data about what students know and can do.
- Lack of quality online learning materials.
And from the RAND report:
- Efforts to personalize instruction and implement mastery-based approaches were often inconsistent and limited by varying access to data, external pressure to advance students at a certain pace, and the significant time required to create instructional materials.
- Persistent teacher vacancies limited collaboration and strained teacher capacity, and principals reported difficulties finding and retaining qualified, experienced teachers.
- High-quality instructional materials were not readily available, and although some teachers reported valuing the autonomy to create their own materials, they struggled to find the time to do so and received limited district support.
- Schools revised their models based on broad feedback, but most schools had yet to develop clear systems for data-driven improvement, instead addressing issues as they arose.
Springpoint Partners in School Design, an outside Bill & Melinda Gates team-backed nonprofit promising to redesign schools, tries to put a happy spin on the problems.
The interpretation of these failures by the rest of us, indicate a breakdown that should be a concern for parents and educators. Here’s the reality of personalized learning.
- When teachers and parents are pushed aside in favor of the ideas of outsiders, who don’t work with students, curriculum goes haywire.
- When programs aren’t appropriately vetted much money is wasted.
- When students don’t get what they need to do well in school, they will come up short at graduation.
- The goals and evaluative measures by teachers in the past weren’t so bad. At least we knew how students were doing.
- Students need real teachers who know how to teach.
- Online learning materials don’t seem to be as good as we are led to believe.
- School districts jumping into this without better information and due diligence are hurting students.
The most frightening is the pushing students towards graduation, whether they had mastered material or not. This was the hyped-up bogus charge that created havoc in America’s high schools in the first place. Now, with interference by corporations, it’s becoming reality.
None of this should be a surprise. There was no research to indicate Common Core or online personalized learning would work. Education Week had a report on that a while back too (referenced below).
RAND will be evaluating a cohort of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation-funded schools—schools the Gates Foundation and Mark Zuckerberg have been pushing that use personalized learning.
We will all be waiting to hear the results. While we are waiting, I heard from a former student from one of the High Tech High Schools Bill Gates likes so much. With her permission, I will share that in my next post.
Herold, Benjamin. “Personalized Learning a Big Challenge in High School Redesign, RAND Finds.” Education Week. September 21, 2017.
Herold, Benjamin. “Personalized Learning: What Does the Research Say?” Education Week. October 18, 2016.